Christchurch terror attack: Muslim groups want Royal Commission's recommendations implemented

10:22 am on 1 March 2021

Muslim groups are calling for more action and accountability over the mosque attacks in a new report out today.

The final report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques on 15 March 2019.

The final report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques on 15 March 2019. Photo: RNZ / Sam Rillstone

They want immediate action on a dozen of the Royal Commission's 44 recommendations including mandatory reporting of firearm injuries and better training in security agencies.

The 42-page report from the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) is in response to the government's series of 28 hui nationwide last month.

Some Muslims have dismissed these hui as a talkfest, but others appreciated government ministers turning up.

The report calls for the urgent setting up of a network to help victims, and for amending the Public Finance Act to require the security services to undergo performance audits.

It urges the prime minister's department to put a priority on "regaining the public trust after the failings identified in the Royal Commission report".

The commission found "systemic failures" in counterterrorism, listed six factors including shortcomings in oversight by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), but also said no public agencies had failed.

It found the system lacked clear leadership, and was ill-equipped and under-resourced to gather intelligence and identify new threats.

The DPMC told RNZ in an OIA response it had not reviewed any of its staff's performance in the lead-up to the 2019 attacks, and had no information about how it had been held to account.

The new FIANZ report couches its calls for action in appreciation for what's been done so far, such as around tightening firearms laws, and discussing hate crimes.

Implement recommendations within six months

It envisages all 44 recommendations being implemented within 18 months, but more than half of them it wants in place within six months.

That includes setting up a new counterterrorism agency, funding independent research to prevent extremism and fully improving firearms licensing.

The call around reporting of firearms injuries is in response to it being revealed the mosque gunman was treated in hospital for such an injury in mid-2018.

The new report both notes "the commitment of stakeholders throughout the public and civic sectors to meaningful and authentic engagement" and pushes for more accountability.

"It is FIANZ's contention, based on overwhelming response from the community, that there needs to be full accountability with respect to the NZ Police and the NZ Security Intelligence Services," it said.

"The importance of regaining the public trust after the failings identified in the Royal Commission Report should be given a priority focus by the DPMC.

"In this respect, we have taken cognisance of the recommendations of the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General, Tumuaki o te Mana Arotake, of the importance of the public service agencies demonstrating competence, reliability and honesty."

Some young Muslims are pushing for Security Intelligence Service (SIS) director general Rebecca Kitteridge to go over the counterterrorism failures.

Haris Murtaza, who was part of the Muslim Community Reference Group that advised the Royal Commission into the attacks, said the government needed to move quicker on issues like support for victims and 'intergenerational support'.

"A lot of these matters have been compounded over the past two years and there will be ongoing need for support, especially for those children who had been orphaned," he told Morning Report.

Murtaza wanted to see an action-based framework where outcomes were measurable. He said accountability was the important point, which involved looking at the reports' findings and fixing problems.

"Unless they are addressed and reviewed and unless publicly the intelligence community and police come out with plans and instil confidence these will be mitigated and contingency plans have been put in place to ensure something like this does not occur again - especially when it comes to the disproportionate amount of surveillance of minority groups, especially Muslims - that's what accountability looks like."

Abdur Razzaq, who chairs the Federation of Islamic Association's follow-up to the Royal Commission, said the wellbeing of victims was paramount and their summary of the Royal Commission report victims and the wider community a clearer understanding of it.

He told Morning Report the association wanted specifics in the implementation of recommendations to tackle systemic and structural failures, including flawed processes and institutional bias among SIS staff. A timeframe was key in achieving this, he said.

"We have put in a timeframe, a key lesson learned from other Royal Commissions and other major events. Because unless you have a timeframe and key metrics you will not know if the government is going ok or are on track. We have clearly identified our expectations and a timeframe and we have also clearly specified the priorities."

SIS, GCSB respond

Kitteridge told RNZ the SIS was already undergoing a "significant transformation" in how it operated prior to the attacks, "including an increased focus on white identity extremism".

"We did not wait for the outcome of the Royal Commission of Inquiry to make further changes in how we worked, and build on the transformation which was already underway at that time," Kitteridge said in a statement.

"Immediately after the attacks we engaged an expert external reviewer to look deeply at our operations, resulting in the Arotake Review. The executive summary of this report has already been publicly released, and we expect to release an unclassified version of the full report soon."

NZ Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge speaks after the release of the final report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques on 15 March 2019.

NZ Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge speaks after the release of the final report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques on 15 March 2019. Photo: RNZ / Sam Rillstone

Kitteridge said the review confirmed SIS was moving in the right direction, including:

  • Enabling the NZSIS to be more focussed on the identification of previously unknown, new and emerging national security threats.
  • Streamlining the mechanism through which leads are prioritised and assessed.
  • Enhancing how it works with key agencies to "improve coordination of the detection and investigation of counter-terrorism threats".
  • Increased focus on connecting with communities to "identify and discuss national security concerns".
  • Better training to help staff understand unconscious bias, and running a recruitment campaign aimed at increasing diversity of the workforce.

Kitteridge said it was important to note the commission's report "did not find that the attacks could have been prevented if these changes had started earlier".

She said she was committed to working with partners and the government on the commission's recommendations.

GCSB Director-General Andrew Hampton said the GCSB was committed to making its role and capabilities "more widely understood and utilised by domestic partner agencies".

"We are already working to achieve this, including with New Zealand Police, in line with the priorities set by government and in accordance with the law.

"The GCSB also continues to make valuable contributions to global counter terrorism efforts, including the disruption of terrorist activities. We would add that the GCSB has in place, and did so prior to the March 15 terrorist attacks in Christchurch, warrants that do not distinguish between different forms of violent extremism. This enables us to respond to requests from other agencies and contribute to global efforts against the full spectrum of violent extremism."

Interview declined

In response to RNZ's OIA request about accountability, the DPMC quoted the Royal Commission saying "no public sector agency involved in the counter terrorism effort failed to meet required standards or was otherwise at fault in respects that were material to the individual's planning and preparation for his terrorist attack not being detected".

The department added: "DPMC has not asked for, and does not anticipate, a specific employment review or similar of staff as a result of the findings of the Royal Commission.

"DPMC recognises that there will be opportunities to improve our system and the effectiveness of DPMC's role in it," the department's deputy chief executive and National Security Group head Tony Lynch said in a statement.

RNZ asked to interview Lynch prior to the second anniversary of the attacks, to ask what had been done to make sure the country was safer.

The department declined an interview.

Lynch is both the DPMC's lead executive in charge of governance of the national security system, and the overall lead official for the government's response to the mosque attacks.

He was appointed in August 2019.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry's 800 page report into the response to the Christchurch terror attack.

The Muslim community has complained people have not been helped to grasp the 800-page Royal Commission report. Photo: RNZ / Sam Rillstone

In the years leading up to the March 2019 attacks, the executive in charge of national security oversight was the former Police Commissioner Howard Broad. RNZ has been unable to contact Broad.

Similar interview requests as for Lynch have been lodged by RNZ with the operational wings of the security system - SIS, Government Communications Security Bureau and Police.

Hui feedback

The government hui hosted by GCSB and NZSIS Minister Andrew Little and Diversity Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan wrapped up last week.

Written feedback from some participants was provided to RNZ by Muslim groups.

One said: "The few participants who were allowed to speak were given an enforced two-minute opportunity, which were each responded to without time limit by the ministers.

"Responses from the ministers were often defensive and accusatory. There was no opportunity to respond which meant ministers ensured they had the last word."

Another said: "While it was good to meet and hear from the ministers in person, the whole thing was very rushed and time restrained.

"Personally I feel that this was a tick-the-box exercise. Even the updates were very shallow on details. I was able to get more information from the DPMC website compared to the meeting."

A third respondent said it would have been good if the SIS's Rebecca Kitteridge had fronted at the hui.

The Muslim community has complained people have not been helped to grasp the 800-page Royal Commission report.

The federation report out today addressed this:

"The DPMC needs to urgently provide resources for the victims to ensure they understand the findings and the recommendations.

"There is considerable disquiet about findings related to the terrorist and also the circumstances which led to the terrorism.

"The victims are also not aware of the impact of the recommendations, with respect to their own wellbeing."

The report noted the federation undertook an analysis of the attack's impact on victims.

It lists 51 victims' expectations of what help they should get:

"After my husband's death, I expect that government will continuously support me in every way (finance) and also help me or provide some finance for my study in university. I want to become a register pharmacist," said one.

"To bring her [victim's] daughter and her family. Her daughter has not seen her parent for 17 years and her dad promised to visit her this year but sadly he is now deceased. She would like to reunite her family. She is the only one left back home. Laws to prevent and punish hate crimes against Muslim," said another.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs